BURNING MAN, Black Rock City, Nevada "U.S. needs us strong," the poster blares. "Eat your young."
From the passenger seat, I snap a picture, ever the hack, even at 2.30am in a minor sandstorm. A guard flat-palms the lens. "Is that camera registered yet?" he barks.
"Nah, why would it be?" I reply, about to bust out my press card and constitutional indignation, though I'm not on assignment. Then I laugh: the dude Big-Brothered the newbie, completely in keeping with the American Dream theme.
I have much to learn here. Lesson one being not to dance and bike through soft sand in tight, knee-high Victorian-princess boots. These restrict blood flow: an effect both dangerous and stupid-making. But I'm distracted by the neon-rigged towers, the giant inflated ketchup bottle, the Opulent Temple's flame jets, art cars beetling through the night, sound systems thrashing ...
By sun rise, I have to concentrate to walk*. "Lift leg, plant foot," I coach myself. Stealing a page from Louche, I pretend to be a Victorian adventurer, drugged by some fiendish enemy of the Empire. Though my vision narrows to a oscillating portal, this delusion enables me to claw home to camp, diligently exchange the fur-trimmed mini-dress for pajamas, and fall asleep with my water bottle and headlamp at hand.
Dawn does its rosy-fingered routine. My friends depart for another dance club. Feeling gradually returns to my lower limbs.
Welcome to Burning Man.
*Normally I would strip the offending boots and schlep around barefoot. But the low humidity and alkaline lake bed gives rise to a malady called "playa foot": basically a chemical burn. And my soles are already thrashed enough, post West Coast Trail...